Whether due to lack of open communication or simply lack of time, instructors sometimes arrive at classroom review time to find that a number of students were not completely satisfied for all or part of the course. To get to the bottom of this conundrum, as part of Cengage Learning’s Student Case Study program, we asked our college student audience what it is they need from their instructors in order to get the most out of their education. Of course, some students’ answers were not surprising: “More extra credit!” Some were rather unexpected: “Nothing, students should put more effort in.” But many help us to paint a better picture of where the ever-debatable disconnects between teaching methods and learning preferences lie.

Top ten things college students need

1. Be more deliberate (slower) in their teaching.
2. Be more understanding.
3. I wish professors would make themselves more approachable. Sometimes, I’m afraid to go up to a professor to ask a question.
4. Use more mediums to teach us with. Be more hands-on and creative with your teaching.
5. Find better course materials. Many of the books used in classes are outdated, poorly written or edited, and contradictory.
6. Make the class work together more instead of having lecture every single class.
7. If professors offered specific test and exam formats and outlines, students could really benefit.
8. Be more open about what exactly will be covered on the test. Not just hand us twelve chapters that we have to study from the textbook and say it can be on anything.
9. Offer more practice problems or tests that are similar to what the [final] exams will be.
10. I wish they could give a better outline sometimes of what they expect in papers and presentations for class.

Provide clarity

During the first week of classes, you may choose to assume that students will cling to every word we bestow upon them and neatly file away their syllabi, or you can be a bit more realistic about their habits and expectations. One of college students’ primary concerns is clarity. Early in your career, you learn to “repeat, repeat, repeat.” Later, you may feel as though you want to say, “Enough already!”  Naturally, it is taxing to feel as though you are repeating yourselves day in and day out; however, do remember that even Albert Einstein did not perform at the same level in all subjects, possibly because his preferred method of learning did not match that his instructors’ teaching methods.

Deliberate teaching methods lead to deeper and longer-term understanding. If you are meticulous in your requirements for research papers, for example, provide students with a highly detailed rubric and help them to understand the reasoning behind it. Do you think your students have been tested enough and are curious to know what they can accomplish without one? Provide a less-detailed rubric (or none at all), but be sure clarify to them the reason for this as well—that they should draw on all they’ve learned to date.

Try new angles

If students are asking questions, it means they fortunately do not have the problem of #3 listed above. If they are not asking questions, consider if anyone is, in fact, suffering from that problem and what you can do to encourage engagement. And if you’ve already explained one way, avoid simply repeating it verbatim. Remember that other thing Einstein taught us. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Drawing from students’ tips #4-6, try demonstrating what you’ve just told them (and written on the board and shouted from the rooftops) in a brand new way. Try sharing a relevant video, podcast, hands-on tutorial, or real-life scenario.

How do you respond to students’ needs? Do any of the items listed in our “top ten” resonate with you—or surprise you? And where do you stand on the idea of “learning types”? Do you teach to address these “types,” or do you believe they’re more appropriately labelled “preferences” or “aptitudes”? Share your ideas in the comments section.